Tuesday, October 18, 2011

THOR: God of Thunder: an Alternate Focus Review

Again with the movie tie-ins. Oy! But what can I say? I'm a Marvel junkie. And who can argue with a blonde guy the size of an 18-wheeler sporting a Chuck-ly beard and whose weapon of choice is a cinderblock on a stick? No one, that's who. Thus I gift you mortals with this review of THOR: God of Thunder. That's right- he's so awesome his name is in all caps.

Our titular hero is a man with two faces; one a rage-fueled badass with an affinity for the violent enbludgeonment of his enemies, and yet at the same time he shows himself to be a rage-blinded dope whose predictably hair-trigger temper is the basis for the game's storyline. That and his little brother's squirrely antics.

The storyline is as follows: an Abominable Snowman army invades Asgard. Thor(being Thor), isn't satisfied with merely driving them off, no- he's out for blood. And it isn't just the head snowman he's after- Thor is out to destroy their entire PLANET. Little brother Loki has a trick or two up his sleeve to aid his big brother in the endeavor(for his own ends- and nefarious ones at that) and thus, mayhem ensues.

It was kind of hard for me to play the first half of the game- in the same way it's hard to watch a horror film in that moment where Chesty Teen #3 enters the eerily-lit-house-where-people-you-know-are-there-aren't-responding-when-you-call-out-to-them and then heads upstairs to investigate the sinister noise rather than running the hell out the front door. You know what's going to happen but you can't stop it because the blonde in front of you is too dumb to recognize a trap when they're walking into one.

Superhuman blond-itude aside, nothing says God of Thunder like smackin' the crap out of badguys, and that is certainly one thing Thor excels at. With any number of combos for heavy damage, crowd control, aerial maneuvers and powerful finishers, Thor is well equipped from the start to deal with mobs of enemies, and as he levels up, he only becomes more capable as the game progresses.

Thor has a number of storm powers unlocked during the course of the campaign(based on lightning, thunder and wind, and powered by a magic meter called Odinforce), a combo system that increases the effectiveness of certain abilities once you reach preset numbers of hits, equippable runes you can use to power up storm abilities or buff Thor's physical traits, and a 3-tiered leveling system to upgrade Thor's might(+melee dmg, new combos), valor(+health, +rune slots), and Storm powers(+Odinforce, +storm dmg). The game gives you these tools to get the job done. And get the job done you will, if Thor's got anything to say about it.

In between pummeling the rank and file, you're tasked with hammering large minibosses into submission before finishing them off with minor quick time events, and then onto leveling massive end bosses in more cinematic QTEs.

When you add to all that the extras- a level select for all levels completed, 4 unlockable costumes, the unlockable "Ragnarok" difficulty, concept art, replayable cinematics, and even an episode of the "Avengers" cartoon- what you end up with is a surprisingly fully-featured handheld experience who's modest campaign length is made up for by it's replayability.

Below I'll add some screens I took of a couple of the costumes available in the game. Excuse the quality- I took pictures of my 3DS's screen.

Movie Thor(Default)

Classic Thor(called Kirby Thor in game- named for Jack Kirby, one of Thor's co creators)

The Destroyer costume

Friday, September 30, 2011

I think it's high time for a new game experience.

I was playing the Beta for Battlefield 3 last night when an idea struck me. I think this idea could be implemented in such a way as to revolutionize the tactical squad-based shooter:

A new version of Battlefield's rush mode (with varied objectives)but with one player on each side in the role of commander. The commander could deploy on the battlefield as a cursor(a lá 343 Guiltyspark in Halo's theatre mode) with the ability to leave colored waypoints on a live top-down overview of the map. The commander would also have radio contact with the leaders of each squad who would then pass his orders down to their men.

Commander: "Charlie Squad- take defensive positions on the green waypoint."

Squad leader then relays the message and has his men follow the order.

I think it would make for an excellent game mode. A cross between fps and rts. Keep a set of stats for play time as the commander, too. It would be an extremely cooperative mode.

Also, when you die as a soldier, neither you nor any of your squad mates can respawn until the whole squad needs to respawn. The game would still run on tickets, but they would be squad tickets instead of individual tickets.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine: an Alternate Focus Review

"The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Imperium."

This is gonna be a long-ass day...

Graia- a forgeworld of the Imperium of Man- has come under attack by the green-skinned hordes of the Orks. The planet is of critical importance to the war effort. With no other viable option to maintain control of the planet, it's resources, and the Titan war machines manufactured there, the Imperium has dispatched the Ultramarines chapter of the Space Marines to halt the invasion and retake the planet.

Enter Captain Titus: Hero. Tool of the Imperium. Angel of Death. A one-man wrecking crew to whom "fear" is a word known, but only in the context of it's effect on his enemies. He's on a mission and no damnable Ork is going to stop him.

That's about all the information you get before starting Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. At that point you're dropped(quite literally) into the fray and the rest of the game's exposition will take the form of cutscenes and audiologs.

The cutscenes expound on the immediate story- the next objective, the next obstacle, the next step toward victory. The audiologs, however, present more of the view of 'how we came to this,' and in some cases give a rather chilling account of the initial invasion from the point-of-view of the civillian populace and the factory workforce. When walking through one of the Manufactorums that construct the massive Warlord class Titans, the automated PA system(which is about the only thing still running after the Orks have torn through) also sheds some light on the conditions imposed on the factory workers, and thereby the state of the Imperium itself.

Titus' stoic, nearly robotic demeanor might have alienated the character from the player were it not for his interaction with his subordinates and the common footsoldiers: when the Imperial Guardsmen make audio contact with the Ultramarine captain, there is a quiet sense of awe when they address him as 'my lord;' When Titus passes through an outpost that isn't currently under siege, the guardsmen snap to attention at his approach. All these details serve to ground the uninitiated in the fact that the Ultramarines are much more than mere soldiers- they're something approaching royalty -or even gods- in the eyes of the common imperial guardsman.

When dealing with his subordinates- or battle brothers, as he refers to them- Titus will make it perfectly clear that he is in charge, but never with scorn or sarcasm. All his dealings- with his equals or his inferiors- are conducted with quiet respect, and the unspoken understanding that he is undeniably in charge.

The gameplay can best be described as powerful- from the feel of the melee combat, to the satisfyingly meaty THWOCK of explosive-tipped rounds slamming into ork flesh, right down to the clomping of your ridiculously huge metal boots pounding the pavement. This game seems to take pride in portraying the Space Marines as more of a force of nature than actual soldiers when on the battlefield.

The combat itself is a curious mix of Gears of War, Koei's multitudinous Warriors titles and Halo. With Gears' oversized Manly-Men with Guns and focus on bloody death to the enemy, Warriors' myriad enemies lined up to water the battlefield with their lifeblood, and Halo's then-revolutionary recharging shield, non recharging health mechanic. But at the same time, it refrains from being mired in it's gameplay inspiration, while luxuriating in it's source material. This game is obviously built by Warhammer fans for Warhammer fans and to create new Warhammer fans.

For a game that will never be mistaken for a Triple-A blockbuster, it shows a remarkable amount of heart and attention to detail- from the guardsman who breathes his last thanking the emperor that he got to see a Space Marine before he died to the 2nd Lieutenant who delivers Patton-esque ass-chewing to a soldier about to break under the strain. 38,000 years in the future when the entire galaxy is locked in a never ending war and it can still tell a very human story.


Monday, September 12, 2011

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra: an Alternate Focus Review

This review is in progress. Judging by that image, though, it's safe to say it isn't going to be pretty.

Primary weapon: Fists and Feet
Specialty: gadgets, combo finishers.
His element: rhythmically zipping back and forth across the arena.
Worst case scenario: surrounded by a crowd of enemies.

Batman is all about power and precision; Taking out enemies as brutally and efficiently as possible.

With the widest variety of toys and gadgets of all the playable characters, the Dark Knight is well equipped to take on thugs, goons, hirelings, henchmen or any combination thereof: batarangs for ranged priority targets, such as gun-toting goons or thugs with throwable objects; the freeze blast if you want a specific enemy to keep for later- useful against riddler lackeys in the story mode; the REC which is useful when enemies are crowded together, as it makes the enemy it hits swing his weapon wildly, or in the case of armored foes, it sends them flying into their allies; the Batclaw, for when you want to reach out and touch someone; and explosive gel: it can ruin your combo if you trigger it wrong, but when you set it off at the right time it can change the whole landscape of the battle.

Be wary, though, as our hero isn't quite unstoppable. Batman has the slowest strikes when compared to Robin, Nightwing and Catwoman, and his combat is focused on keeping rhythm. While he'll be able to beat lower level thugs to the punch(as it were), mid-level thugs will win a fist race every time, so a large part of mastering Batman is knowing when to counter as well as developing the ability to look a move or two ahead and decide correctly if your next step should be offensive, defensive or evasive.

Because of his comparatively slow strike speed, Batman doesn't do well when he's got more than four or five enemies invading his personal space. His best bet is always to attack a group of enemies from the outside and never to spend too much time in one place. His enormous reach ensures enemies all the way across the arena are always within his grasp, so make sure you keep him on the move- Batman is perfectly at home dashing back and forth across the floor, leaving thugs flying through the air in his wake.

Ground pound
Aerial attack
Freeze blast
Explosive gel
Remote electrical charge(REC)

(XA)Bat Swarm
(XY)Disarm & Destroy
(YB)Instant Takedown
(AB)Multi- Ground Takedown

Preferred weapon: Expanding Staff
Specialty: Offense, crowd control
His element: surrounded by a crowd of unshielded, unarmored enemies.
Worst case scenario: surrounded by shielded, armored and/or stun baton bearing enemies.

Quick and cocky, the Boy Wonder is a storm of violence along with some neat tricks once he gets rolling.

The most offensively-focused character of the lot, Robin is all about striking. During freeflow Robin is perfectly capable of taking out a whole crowd while rooted to a single spot, and when a low level thug throws a punch at him, Robin can take out up to three other enemies and still have time to feed the goon his teeth with one of his patented reversals.

As Batman's protégé, Robin's gadgets are mostly familiar: Batarangs, explosive gel, batclaw(but with a twist: rather than using the batclaw to pull an enemy toward him, Robin uses the enemy as an anchor and zips toward him boot-first), and new devices- the snap-flash; essentially a remote-triggered sticky flashbang, Robin grabs an enemy and sticks it to his back. Set it off in a crowd of enemies and you can clear the floor to open up multiple ground takedown opportunities. His final gadget is a bullet shield which expands from the middle of his staff and can be employed to block incoming weapons fire or to bash an enemy and send him flying through the air.

Robin is also the most limited character in the 'Combo Finishers' department- with only two at his disposal- the instant takedown and an area strike where Robin spins his staff, dropping every enemy nearby and staggering those farther out.

Ground pound
Aerial attack
Shield bash
Explosive gel

(XA)Area Strike
(YB) Instant Takedown

Preferred weapon: Electrified Escrima Sticks
Specialty: Combo finishers, acrobatics
His element: distance striking, close gadgets
Worst case scenario: close striking

Despite his weapon-based striking, Nightwing's combat style identifies more with Batman's rhythm and Catwoman's speed than with his successor's more straight-forward offensive style.

One of the first things I noticed about Nightwing was his gargantuan leap of an evasion maneuver. I would estimate that Nightwing's somersault probably covers half-again the distance of Batman and Robin's tuck 'n' roll evasive move, and perhaps twice as much distance as Catwoman's cartwheels. In short, Nightwing has an impressive talent for creating space between himself and the mob of enemies trying to get their hands on him.

Nightwing fights like Batman in many ways: he benefits from a measured, rhythmic pace(albeit an accelerated one) and an even split between offense and counter-attacking. Like the Dark Knight, he also doesn't do well rooted to one spot, as his strikes usually involve multiple hits and can leave him unable to counter an incoming fist in time. However, even as his speed surpasses his mentor's, his ability to keep a combo suffers greatly. Nightwing must keep moving at all times, as any but the slightest pause will reset his combo counter.

Nightwing also has the second most useful combo finisher of all the playable characters. This move is Chain Lightning- he overcharges his sticks and they shoot out electricity, dazing all enemies in the arena and blowing armored foes right off their feet. This move opens up a perfect opportunity to multiply your variation bonus by giving Nightwing a clear shot to perform a ground pound to take out one of the armored enemies- sometimes two, if the tableau is laid properly. Otherwise Nightwing possesses the standard instant takedown finisher and an area attack that has him tossing his sticks and wingdings around, knocking down a number of enemies.

Another skill Nightwing exhibits is a knack for blade dodges- maybe one-in-four times an enemy swings a knife at him, time slows and makes it an extremely simple matter to perform a blade dodge takedown. This appears to happen at random and with no discernable trigger.

Ground pound
Aerial attack
Wrist dart
Area electricity
Stick toss

(XA)Wingding Combo
(YB)Instant Takedown
(AB)Chain Lightning

Primary weapon: Claws and Heels
Specialty: Hit & run tactics
Her element: Fighting small groups
Worst case scenario: Missing a multiple counter or blade dodge

Fast and sharp, this kitty can be a real hellcat in the right hands.

Catwoman's fighting style is hard to adjust to when you're used to the strike->followthrough->strike/counter/dodge format that Batman and his friends employ; her attack pattern is extremely staccato. As soon as one strike connects, she's delivering the next- and the next- and the next. It almost feels out of control because she doesn't follow through, so her strikes come out rapid fire. She also has no patience for delay, as more than an instant's pause will reset her combo.

Catwoman also needs to be extra careful when engaging large groups. With much less melee and ballistic armor than any of the heroes, the name of the game for Catwoman is 'short and sweet.' She doesn't do well with large or long engagements, and it seems the damage she takes increases based on how rapidly the blows land- missing a double- or triple counter can be devastating, as can being hit by multiple blade slashes.

Her gadget setup can also be a source of frustration, as her primary gadget(whip trip) takes several moments to employ and it is in that time that she is most likely to take a combo-snuffing hit. Her only other gadgets are her bolas(a thrown weapon akin to batarangs and wingdings), and an explosive that drops caltrops(sharp metal burs used to slow or stop foot pursuit). The caltrops come in handy for when a group of enemies becomes too unwieldy; drop one of these bad boys at just the right moment and you can bring a whole crowd to it's knees(for a moment, at least).

Her combo finishers also open up opportunities to extricate herself from unfavorable situations: with one she does a breakdance backspin with her whip extended to trip all of her surrounding foes(short of armored and shielded enemies), and her Whiplash Combo helps to create a space through which she can escape in a pinch.

Ground pound
Aerial attack
Whip trip

(XA)Whiplash Combo
(YB)Instant Takedown
(AB)Area Whip Trip

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bodycount: Demo Impressions.

I've just loaded up the Xbox Live demo for Bodycount. After watching the mission brief I get in game and look at the controls screen.

The controls intrigue me. Controls for weapons marked: Knife, fire weapon, explosive bullets, grenades, cook grenade, impact grenade, deploy mines, something called a Target Pulse Wave.

It has a control marked WMD Airstrike.

I am buying this game.
I'll actually play the demo tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dark Void: an Alternate Focus Review.

Something Old, something New, something Borrowed something Blue.

The best thing about B-list titles is that they can afford to take chances on new gameplay ideas where AAA titles generally cost so much to make that they need to rely on the tried and true to ensure that they sell millions of copies and make all those little dollar signs just pile up.

Dark Void tells a heartwarming tale about the bermuda triangle, evil alien nazi robots, and what really happened to Nikola Tesla and Amelia Earhart. And it does so from a third-person/top-down/bottom-up perspective.

The story begins with our WWII-era hero loading up his airplane for a routine transport job. The job immediately becomes something other than routine, however, when he finds out his client is none other than the proverbial 'one that got away.'
After some less-than-subtle exposition for the sole purpose of fleshing out the backstories of characters we have yet to be made to give a damn about, we find ourselves sucked into the Bermuda Triangle which, it seems, is actually a gateway to the Void: a world between our dimension and one belonging to a snakelike alien race. The snake people, it seems, have few hobbies- chief among them appears to be being worshipped as gods, but they're also dab hands in the fields of Blue Death Ray technology, and Evil Robotics- both of which they sent through the Void to aid the Nazis on their quest for conquest.

Are the snake people Nazis? The game never says explicitly, but somehow I doubt it... but all this story nonsense is really beside the point- the story itself serves perfectly well as a vehicle to provide an ultimate objective(fighting off the aliens and thereby saving the world from the Nazis), but that's about it.

The first two or three levels in the game offer you a crash course in fighting from cover and common platforming elements.

On the ground, cover is king. But not one of those badass warrior kings, no, it's kinda like...
the king of hearts in Disney's Alice in Wonderland- he's a king, sure, but he doesn't do as much as you think he ought to. Oftentimes, you'll be doing just fine cracking Robo-skulls with the precise application of ballistic force right up until the flying Nazibots render your concrete slab useless as a Blue Death Ray-absorbing bulwark by flying upward to get a clear shot at you.

Shooting from cover is not a new idea- cover systems in 3rd person gaming can be traced back as far as 1999's Nintendo 64 release Winback: Covert Operations. Part of what makes Dark Void stand out in this regard has to do with how the cover mechanic works- any joker can duck behind a pile of rocks. Dark void takes it further with vertical combat- the idea that the Evil Nazibots don't just come at you from the front, they're ready to come from any direction.
If you're on top, they'll come from below; covering on the underside of the platforms beneath you and making you earn the drop to the next piece of cover as you advance downward.

Of course, "vertical" goes both ways, and with the aid of the hoverpack(which allows you to-surprise, surprise!- hover for a short time) which you get a couple of levels later, so will you- the screens don't really do justice to the vertical perspective; you really have to see it for yourself.

Two or three levels after that, you hit gold: The jetpack.

With the jetpack, you can get flying with a simple double tap of the jump button. Just watch out for those cliff faces- bouncing off of them in flight mode is extremely hazardous to your personal well-being. The flight controls take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, the jetpack becomes one of the most novel experiences on current generation game consoles. Up until this point, the game has proven itself to be a competent, if uninspired, 3rd person shooter, but with the jetpack it becomes so much more- promoting a do-anything approach to destroying nazibots, you can fight from cover on the ground, you can strafe the enemy positions using the heavy caliber machine guns and magnetic rockets attached to your jetpack (earned by upgrading your jetpack with points accumulated by destroying the enemy), commandeer friendly-or hijack enemy- aircraft, or any combination of these tactics- or make up your own- the game gives you the tools, you decide how to use them to the fullest effect.

The most unfortunate part of this brilliantly concocted mishmash of genres is that at one point near the end of the game you lose the jetpack and being forced back into the "3rd person cover shooter" format seems to tarnish the experience to the point where I stopped playing the game altogether for a time. It isn't that the 3rd person aspect is bad, it's more because the ability to switch the game from a run of the mill shooter to a way out Jetpack Combat Flight sim is such a neat trick that I felt hobbled without it.

In the end: as a videogame- a source of entertainment- as something to have fun with, it is excellent 4/5.

And to anyone wondering about the tagline:
Something Old= 3rd person shooters
Something New= The jetpack
Something Borrowed= The cover mechanic
Something Blue= Evil robot lasers